William Lane Craig vs. Klemens Kappel: Summary and Commentary

Preliminary thoughts:

I’m quite familiar with William Lane Craig’s debates, and I’m hoping that he uses some new material. I have no idea who Klemens Kappel is, but his university profile (http://epistemology.ku.dk/participants/kappel/) shows that he’s actually a philosopher, unlike most of Craig’s previous debate opponents. I’ve got high hopes for this debate. Audio and video can be found here: http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/04/william-lane-craig-vs-klemens-kappel.html

They seem to be having some problems with their sound equipment. The volume level varies, and there was a weird crackle sound. I hope this problem doesn’t come back during the debate.

Apparently Kappel, in addition to having a philosophy degree, is a member of the Danish Council of Ethics. The near-inevitable discussion on the moral argument might be interesting.
20 minute opening statements, 12 minute first rebuttal, 8 minute second rebuttal, 5 minute closing statements, then a Q&A (which I probably will not address due to time) Here we go…

William Lane Craig’s Opening Statement:

Craig is defending two basic contentions. Business as usual so far.

Interesting. Kappel has criticized agnostics as being “too timid” in his published work.
Craig goes on to say that Kappel has talked about three types of evidence that could possibly justify theism (logical proofs, inference to the best explanation, testimonial evidence). He’s certainly done his research on his opponent. I wonder if Kappel has done the same.

Craig’s starting with the cosmological argument; business as usual. (I probably won’t say too much about the specifics of his arguments here, as they’re likely quite well known by anyone people reading this).

Well, this is interesting. He’s using the Liebniz cosmological argument and not the Kalam. I wonder why.

This debate now seems like a pretty big 180 for Craig. He only briefly mentions that there are moral and ontological arguments, then moves on to abductive arguments. Maybe he’s trying to undercut his opponent’s experience in analytic philosophy by moving toward more empirical grounds?
Fine tuning argument. Given the speed at which he’s moved through points so far, I think he’s going to spend a lot more time than usual on this, and then the historical argument. If he does, Kappel might have a hard time responding.

Hmm. He just referred to the fine-tuning argument as “inductive”. But it’s not – it’s abductive. Given that this is an amateur mistake for someone like Craig, I’m going to assume he just misspoke.
Yep. He’s spending even more time on fine tuning than he spent on the cosmological argument. Very different from what he usually does.

Now this is very interesting. He’s proposing an abductive argument from the beginning of the universe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this kind of argument from Craig before. I think it’s in response to the recent trend of physicists like Hawking and Krauss talking about arguments for theism. He says “some populizers of science mischaracterize quantum vacuum states as ‘nothing'”.
Now he’s moving on to testmonial evidence, and giving the historical argument. But he’s only giving three facts this time, when he usually gives four. The empty tomb, appearances, and the disciples coming to believe in the resurrection – he’s dropped Jesus’ death/burial.

Hmm. He called the historical argument inductive as well. Now I’m baffled; he seems to think abduction and induction are the same thing. But anyway, he’s finishing up his opening statement, so it’s time to move on. Kappel is going to have a hard time responding to Craig’s modified opening statement.

Klemens Kappel’s Opening Statement

Kappel opens with a question to the audience – he asks how many are theists and how many are atheists (most are theists). He starts his case with a definition of God: “a psychological being that exists outside the causal order, maybe even outside time and space, who nonetheless has the willingness and capacity to intervene in earthly affairs, and who might be the originator of the universe, human beings, moral laws”.
This is very promising – he defines an atheist as “someone who believes that God doesn’t exist”; in line with modern philosophy, and apart from “new atheism”. He then gives a stronger view of someone who “knows that God doesn’t exist”, and says that he holds this view.

He then says that he will only attempt to explain his view, and not to convince the audience that he is right. He also says that he will not present a cogent argument (defined as “a set of premises and inferences that rationally ought to be accepted by a firm believer”) to a firm believer. Finally, he says that he will not respond to arguments and counter-arguments ad nauseum.

He points out that in the vast majority of cases, belief in God is based on upbringing, community, and a sense of meaning; as opposed to evidence. He then reiterates what Craig said about three types of possible evidence in support of God. I don’t know where he’s going with this, but it doesn’t seem very conducive to winning the debate; and indeed he doesn’t seem interested in doing so.

Ok – he’s now arguing that we shouldn’t take evidences for God very seriously, because we should consider the God hypothesis as “an alternative hypothesis to what we commonly know via science and common sense”, and thus we are entitled to ignore such hypotheses.

He compares the God hypothesis to the hypothesis that AIDS is caused by something other than the HIV virus. He proposes treating the God hypothesis the same way we treat the Aphrodite hypothesis or the Thor hypothesis- we ignore it. He then gives a version of Russel’s Teapot he calls the “magical mythological star”; and then a parody of the cosmological argument he calls the “magical explanatory star”; and then another parody he calls the “magical ontological star”. His point is that we could have lots of discussion about what’s wrong with these star-arguments, but we still don’t take them seriously.

He proposes that we should use empiricism and science to determine what exists, as opposed to things like tradition or upbringing. He then admits that his proposal is question-begging, but that it’s ok because he’s not making an argument, just explaining his view.

He concludes with a hypothetical dialogue in which “Adam” simply asserts that God exists, and claims that “Bertrand” (lol) cannot simply counter-assert that God does not exist. He says that Bertrand may have to find a way to defend naturalism/empiricism, but that no such way may be available – Bertrand and Adam may be beyond reach from one another.

Finally, he says that faith in God is not belief, but another mental state, like hoping or trust; and that it may be an indispensibel part of one’s worldview. He believes that faith or belief is based on a false assumption, but that this doesn’t mean that one should give it up.

William Lane Craig’s First Rebuttal:

Craig opens with a criticism of Kappel’s definition of God – calling God a psychological being implies that he is mind-dependent, while theists claim he is mind-independent.

He says that Kappel more or less agreed that there are no good reasons to think that God does not exist. He then says that while “Bertrand” might believe God does not exist, he doesn’t know, because knowing implies having warrant for one’s belief.

Craig continues by saying that we know Thor doesn’t exist because we have empirical evidence that he doesn’t; but we don’t have this for God. He also says that the magical stars analogies are logically incoherent. He gives the same response here that he did to Lewis Wolpert’s special computer analogy – a star with all these properties is really not a star at all, but another word for God.
He says that his case is not offered as an alternative to science, but that he uses science as his case; and that science as an alternative to theism is a false dichotomy. He closes with a review of the arguments he presented in his opening statement; and then introduces his moral argument after all. Finally, he holds up a book by J.P. Moreland, and says that he argues that there’s an abductive argument from the existence of consciousness.

Klemens Kappel’s First Rebuttal:

The most pressing question in the debate is who you’re trying to convince, and what the proper rules for how to discuss God are. He says that most people think religion is best kept in the private sphere. He asks why arguing that God exists is so important.

He defends his description of God as a psychological being, saying that all he meant is that God is a being that in some way has a mind. He then says (in addition to saying that his area of expertise is epistemology) that Craig’s criticism that knowledge requires warrant is mistaken; because knowing doesn’t require conclusive proof or that evidence is strong enough to rule out all other option. He says that you might know things without knowing that you know them, and that knowledge isn’t as strong a thing as Craig claims.

With a hint of atheistic presuppositionalism, he says that atheism is part of a a naturalistic worldview, and atheists can’t really prove it, then brings up a god of the gaps argument. Then he goes into the issue of the burden of proof, saying that who has it isn’t clear, even in the face of evidence for the opposition.

He finally says that Craig’s arguments rest on premises which are extremely controversial in philosophy (and that Craig knows this). His main criticism is that Craig’s idea of causation in his cosmological argument is merely an “intuitive ontological principle” which has no real support.

William Lane Craig’s Second Rebuttal:

Craig addresses the question of what we’re trying to achieve in the debate, saying that the existence of God is the most important question we can ask. He says that both sides bear the burden of proof, and that he’s taken that burden in providing his arguments.

He says we all have properly basic beliefs, but that atheism can’t be one, and again asks for a justification for atheism. He says that of course his premises are in dispute – that’s what philosophy is; and then proceeds to further defend the premises of his cosmological argument.

After defending the premises of his moral argument, he says the idea that the universe is caused by nothing is much more irrational than theism.

Klemens Kappel’s Second Rebuttal:

Kappel points to the controversy of Craig’s premises as evidence that we might not be wise to believe them, and says that the dispute weakens the strength of the arguments. He also points to the existence of sympathetic, yet unconvinced, skeptics as more evidence that the arguments are weak.

He says that the importance of God’s existence depends on what God’s properties are (i.e. a deistic god isn’t very important at all). There’s really not much more to say about this portion of the debate – Kappel is mostly restating what he’s already said.

Closing Remarks (Craig and Kappel):

Craig mostly just says that we’ve heard good reasons for theism, and no good reasons for atheism, and reviews his arguments once more. Pretty standard. Kappel says that the rational response to academic disagreement is to reduce confidence, but that there’s also disagreement about this, and that Craig is overstating his case.

Post-debate Thoughts

Craig of course did very well, as usual. But his opening statement was quite different from what he’s used in the past – which I found quite refreshing. Kappel on the other hand did very poorly. His case wasn’t a case at all, but merely an explanation of his view. That’s fine, but it’s not the point of a debate. I was hoping for a lot more from a professional philosopher.


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